Treatment program expands

ALBANY, Ga. -- For those wanting to quit smoking, there is hope.

The Georgia Department of Public Health is offering free nicotine replacement therapy support to the 14 counties within the Southwest Public Health District.

The program is being administered through the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line, and will be offering uninsured callers nicotine patches or gum at no cost for a period of four weeks.

The free therapy is specifically for those uninsured or underinsured. It is a service that might especially be helpful to those who have tried, and failed, to quit.

"Research indicates that most smokers make several attempts before they can successfully quit and resist the nicotine addiction," said Dr. Kimberly Redding, DPH's director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

The quit line, regardless of insurance status, will be providing free and confidential counseling tailored to tobacco users 13 and older, including pregnant women.

Officials say these services can be beneficial to those in the area in that they are good resources for smokers who have fewer health care dollars to spare.

"We have a lot of people here that are uninsured or underinsured," said David Cooper, health promotions coordinator for the Southwest Georgia district. "Offering these services for free (will help), especially with it being for those 13 and older.

"We might be able to catch more folks in their older teens."

This is an arrangement that becomes effective immediately. This has been done for the coastal region of Georgia, and it worked very well.

"We look to have the same response here," Cooper said. "Among those that are serious about quitting, we will see a large population using it."

The DPH launched a public service campaign Monday designed to raise awareness about the effects of tobacco use and to motivate smokers to quit. It is being run in several regions where adult smoking rates and severe health impacts are high.

The campaign will feature a mix of advertising, including human interest stories and depictions of the health risks of tobacco. Each ad will be tagged with the toll-free number for the quit line, which is 877-270-7867.

Callers to this line will have the opportunity to speak with professionals who develop individualized plans customized to address cessation, withdrawal symptoms and relapse prevention. Callers will also be provided with a free "Quit Kit" and self-support materials.

It's been established that quitting tobacco use lowers the risk for lung cancer as well as other types of cancer. In addition, it reduces the risk of developing severe respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- one of the leading causes of death nationwide.

For every person who dies from tobacco use, another 20 suffer with at least one serious tobacco-related illness, public health officials say. In Georgia, one out of every six deaths, or more than 10,300 adult deaths statewide, occur each year due to tobacco-related diseases.